Being Vegetarian In The Cattle Country
Growing up in a Pakistani-South Indian household, our dinner choices revolved around meat. This is very common in many cultures. My family eats chicken, beef, goat, lamb and occasionally fish. Everything else, like vegetables and bread, were included but off to a side. I compare it to accessories to an outfit. You have your main clothes, but you still need a purse, shoes and jewelry! But what happens when I don’t want to eat meat anymore? That is a big change. I thought, “How can a purse, shoes and jewelry complete an outfit on its own?”
Ever since my younger years, I always loved animals, but never thought the meat on our plates came from an animal. I thought if we are eating meat, it would look like a cow or a chicken. It wasn’t until I got a little older when I put it altogether.
Here is a funny story I haven’t shared with many people. Every summer during my elementary school years, my family would travel to India or Pakistan. My family members in the “motherland” lived on farms during that period. It was so much fun to be at the farm and play with animals. I honestly thought farmers kept cows, goats and chickens as pets! I had no idea it was to provide for the food on our tables.
One day in India, my mom asked my brother and me what we wanted for dinner. I was such a picky eater as a child, so I never cared about the choices. My brother’s answer was chicken for dinner. I remember my uncle going outside and going to the chicken coup. I didn’t see or hear anything after that, but as young as I was, I knew what that meant.
Sure enough, hours later, we had chicken for dinner. I did NOT eat it. I refused to. It actually took me some time to be “okay” with eating chicken again.
By high school, I forced myself not to think that what I ate was a living creature and just enjoy what God put on this earth for man to consume. That is what everyone told me when I said I feel bad about eating animals. The typical response is, “Man is supposed to eat animals, it is part of the food chain. Remember cavemen always hunted for food.”
In college, I came across an article while vacationing in San Francisco about the meat industry. Reading that had pushed me over the edge.
The newspaper article explained how these animals were inhumanely treated and what exactly goes on in a slaughterhouse. There is a famous quote, “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” I will spare you the details of what I read, but let’s just say I changed my eating habits right then and there.
For the next three years, I barely ate meat. If I did go back to my old ways, I made sure it was Kosher or Halal (Muslim-Kosher as I call it) and there was a reason for that. I justified eating this kind of meat because I thought religious people would handle animals humanely and kill the animal in the name of God. That had my mind at ease, thinking the animal is being “sacrificed” versus “slaughtered.”
Then four years after that, I stopped eating meat altogether and only ate fish. I LOVE sushi and lived off of that, making my “land-animal” dishes obsolete.
Somehow along the way, I reintroduced chicken into my meals. Probably out of convenience. Fish was still the main protein I turned to, but allowing chicken on my plate let to a slippery slope eating Halal/Kosher beef and lamb. (On a side note: lamb is my favorite type of meat BUT I always had remorse afterwards because it was so hard eating something so cute. I could never eat a kitten or a puppy, why should I be okay with eating lamb?)
I didn’t fall, rather jumped off the wagon when I arrived in Detroit. Up until now, I’ve lived my whole life by the ocean. Fish dishes are fresh and very common. Moving to Michigan, I realized I am landlocked despite the Great Lakes. Unless the fish are from the lakes, then I did not want to eat it.
So what was left? Everything else. From January until September of this year I ate whatever I felt like. Steaks, chicken, lamb kabobs … you name it, I probably ate it.
On September 18, I joined two friends at a restaurant in Royal Oak to watch football. I ordered a salad with steak tips. It was really good and I was happy I ordered it.
After the game, I stopped over at Barnes & Nobles to pick up Ambassador Magazine. It was the issue that I was in (see previous blog). While there, I moseyed my way over to the diet and nutrition section. The book “Skinny Bitch” by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin stuck out like a sore thumb. I started to skim it and quickly got the sense this is a book where the authors seem to be reaching out and smacking you across the face. There are many curse words in it. Being from Jersey, I can appreciate the “tough talk” without the fluff. It saves time and gets right to the point.
The book isn’t talking about a diet, it is a lifestyle called veganism. Not only do you avoid meat, but you do not eat any products that come from animals. Say “adios” to eggs, “m-o-o-over over” to milk, “ciao” to cheese. Done. Finished.
The authors discuss some obvious things like avoiding sugar. They also talk about eating only organic food. Some ask, “who cares if the veggies are organic?” But when you think about the pesticides and fertilizers used in the process, it makes you wonder what it could do to our bodies.
The book doesn’t claim to guarantee being “skinny” if you become a vegan. But it is a great chance you will lose weight when you start eating healthier.
It is now November and I have lost 5 lbs. I haven’t done anything different, other than being vegetarian. Sugar is still my number one foe. I am not completely vegan either. I have a hard time letting go of cheese. On the flipside, it has been easy to avoid milk, eggs and yogurt. By avoiding sugar and cheese, I’d probably be back to my high school size!
Overall, I am happy to be vegetarian. The only issue I face is when eating out in restaurants, but I can usually live off of salads. It is much cheaper to eat that way, which is a big plus in this economy!
Luckily for us, we have grocery stores like Plum Market, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s who can help with this new lifestyle. I think I will survive! Wish me luck.
This will be my first Tofurky Thanksgiving! If you have any advice to share, I’ll take it!